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Fort Erie Asked to Kick In Cash for New School

by Matthew Vandervoet | Jan 12, 2015

The District School Board of Niagara has been given more than $20 million from the province to build a new high school in Fort Erie, but the board wants the town to kick in some cash for a few bells and whistles.

In a letter from the DSBN sent to the town on December 17, 2014 the board’s superintendent of business services, Stecy Veld, outlined the request for an additional $3.7 million from the town to go towards a vaguely defined “shared library” and a theatre.

Who would own the facilities and when and how the public would access the them -- if at all -- is not clear, and a report from town staff highlighted the scant nature of the details. Despite the undefined particulars, the recommendation was to come to a funding agreement in principle, pending the ownership and access details being ironed out with the board and to council’s terms. At council on Monday the recommendation to move forward with the funding agreement was accepted unanimously without comments from any councillors.

In the letter, which was a follow-up to a personal visit between the DSBN and acting-CAO Tom Kuchyt late last year, it stated the theatre facility would require a $3 million commitment from the town. In the same letter, the DSBN also said it could “make a shared library a reality” if the town coughed up between $650,000 and $750,000 on top of the $3 million.

Initially the DSBN was seeking to have the town commit one way or another by Jan. 15 but mayor Wayne Redekop asked for an extension until mid-February.

A staff report all but concluded there was only way to make the theatre and library happen: raise local taxes. A lot.

The library is the easier of the two to fund, but would still require a significant taxpayer hit in the form of a one per cent increase every year until 2017, though that still doesn’t quite get them to even the lower end of the bracket at just $645,000.

The $3 million theatre would require quite a bit more funding. To raise the cash in time -- the DSBN said it would need the money by 2017 -- would mean an additional five per cent tax hit passed on to local residents for the next three years. The only potential offset to the costly endeavour would be local fundraising activities, which had vocal proponent’s like Hazel Reinhardt speaking in favour during council on Monday. An ardent supporter of the local arts scene, Reinhardt urged council to commit the $3 million, while also acknowledging the difficulty of the decision.

“The cost is high and not everyone in town will agree. This is a risk,” said Reinhart. “Please, take this leap of faith and believe this community can and will meet this challenge.”

Inside Fort Erie Secondary School -- scheduled for closure by 2017 -- there is already a robust and modern theatre facility, the R. Scott Gemmill Theatre, which the town didn’t have to pay for when it was built. Late last year the theatre hosted a well-received rendition of ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the facility. As for the library, the DSBN said the agreement would closely resemble a similar arrangement that was recently enacted between the Welland Public Library and the DSBN. The Fort Erie Public Library board wrote a letter in support of the plan, which the DSBN is also keen to see come to fruition.

“When Greater Fort Erie Secondary School opens its doors in 2017, it will mark a significant moment in the history of both the DSBN and the Town of Fort Erie,” said the DSBN in its letter. “We look forward to further discussions with you to ensure the school provides the maximum benefit to both students and the community.”

The town will host an open house on Jan. 20 concerning the new high school, at which time they are encouraging the public to voice their concerns over the potential for an additional $3.7 million pledge.

James Culic
Niagara This Week